Will a court pay attention?
April 13, 2021
If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.
Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….
But is the court paying attention?
Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….
At center of case: disgruntled mom, newly indoctrinated policewoman
Aug. 21, 2017
“It’s impossible to say what might have happened had Jane Mabry’s child not been slapped, or if Brenda Toppin had not just been to the sexual abuse class. I certainly don’t think Jane ever foresaw where it all led. Who could? I think all she wanted was to close Little Rascals.”
– Ofra Bikel, quoted in “A ‘Frontline’ documentary on child abuse hysteria shows how good TV can be” by Brian Lambert in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (May 27, 1997)
‘The truth is not a smorgasbord….’
Sept. 16, 2013
“The prosecution-minded are careful to say that they do not believe everything a child says. For example, they do not believe 3-year-old Virginia’s statement that ‘Karen was cooked in a microwave.’
“But they do believe her when she says, ‘I helped my teacher put a playhandle in Karen’s heinie’ – even though one 3-year-old sodomizing another with a ‘playhandle’ an inch or 2 wide and not causing bleeding from a torn rectum is as unbelievable as cooking a child in a microwave.
“Accepting half a child’s statement and rejecting the other (death by microwave) is capricious: The truth is not a smorgasbord from which we can choose the facts we fancy and leave behind those we do not.”
– From “Magical Child Molestation Trials: Edenton’s Children Accuse” by Margaret Leong (1993)
Prosecutors staged revival of ‘spectral evidence’
April 5, 2013
“In the Little Rascals Day Care case testimony was given about children being attacked by sharks kept in a pool by the accused. No prosecutor believed this story, and had such tales been told by adults, their credibility would have been laughed at…. However, (two Edenton defendants) were convicted, because under a new precedent, obviously false stories by children were set aside in the minds of prosecutors and juries, because of the belief that testimony from children needed to be treated differently….
“In (the Salem Witch Trials of) 1692, as in the modern day-care cases, the heart of the episode was the claims of the accusers versus the denials of the accused. Jurors were forced to choose between two sets of competing claims with no independent verification for any of them. Although not all the accusers were children, many were, and the idea of protecting the children played a heavy role in the prosecutions.
“Accusers claimed that the specters of the accused hurt them…. This kind of uncorroborated evidence became known as ‘spectral evidence,’ and on the basis of that evidence convictions routinely occurred. Contrary to popular, modern representations, all this took place in an orderly manner in a special court set up to investigate the outbreak. Within the rules of the day, the accused people had fair trials, just as the (day-care defendants) had a fair trial.
“What brought the trials to an end was the growing belief by the elites in Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially the clergy, that spectral evidence could not be trusted…. The trials continued, but under a new court where spectral evidence was not admissible, (and) the convictions largely stopped….”
– From “No Finality in Fells Acres” by Bernard Rosenthal, author of “Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692”
“In spectral evidence, the admission of victims’ conjectures is governed only by the limits of their fears and imaginations, whether or not objectively proven facts are forthcoming to justify them. (State v. Dustin, 122 N.H. 544, 551 (N.H. 1982)).”
– From “Spectral Evidence Law & Legal Definition”
“Governed only by the limits of their fears and imaginations” – doesn’t that nail it!
A deal for Betsy? Then why not for Bob and Dawn?
May 3, 2013
“In the quaint village of Edenton, where residents have suffered either a sadistic witch hunt of historical proportions or a rampage by a despicable gang of ritualistic child molesters, the public has been slapped in the face by a deal between prosecutors and Elizabeth Kelly.
“Kelly is one of seven people charged with sexually molesting children at the Little Rascals Day Care center. Her husband Bob is pulling 12 life sentences for his part, and lowly cook Dawn Wilson is pulling one life sentence. But Elizabeth Kelly will serve only a few more months because her lawyer got her a good deal.
“A deal? Either she is guilty of inflicting unspeakable horrors on babies or she is as innocent as a lamb. There are no degrees here, either they did it or they didn’t. If they did it, they all deserve to spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison. But if they didn’t do it – and the prosecution now seems unable to prove it and reluctant to try – then they all deserve to be free to exact legal revenge on a community that has put them through hell.
“There is no justice, no fairness and no answers in a deal that sets her free and leaves the others to rot in jail. If Elizabeth Kelly is set free by politicians, why should Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson be sent to jail by juries? If Mrs. Kelly gets a deal, then all of them deserve the same deal.”
– From “When justice becomes the slave of convenience, faith fades” by News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers (Jan. 30, 1994)
Clemency now rare; is it fear of blowback?
Dec. 8, 2013
“Obviously, there’s a modern trend towards more limited use of executive clemency that extends beyond the current president. I speculate that the increased media scrutiny given to pardons and commutations has made presidents reluctant to exercise clemency…..
“The same trend… may be present in North Carolina as well…. Most of Governor Easley’s pardons were in cases in which DNA evidence exonerated the defendant, while almost all of Governor Perdue’s pardons concerned the racially tainted Wilmington 10 cases…. It is too early to tell how much, or how little, Governor McCrory will exercise executive clemency.”
– From “Do Only Turkeys Get Pardons?” by Jeff Welty at the North Carolina Criminal Law blog (Dec. 5)
The chart above, compiled by Welty, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of Government, depicts poignantly the odds faced by Junior Chandler and others pursuing clemency from recent North Carolina governors.
Since Jim Hunt left office in 2001, pardons have become historically scarce, paralleling the drop-off at the presidential level. But that smattering of clemency, as Welty points out, is most like to occur in December, under cover of the Christmas spirit.
For Betsy Kelly’s sister, a chillingly close call
July 26, 2013
Rereading appellate defender Mark Montgomery’s thunderously compelling brief on behalf of Bob Kelly always delivers something I had either passed over earlier or forgotten. This time it was that
“(Jimmy) and Nancy Smith also declined to have their son Judson evaluated by one of the four therapists who saw the other children. By the time of trial, both Mr. and Ms. Smith had been accused by several children as having participated in the abuse. (One of the child-witnesses) said of Nancy Smith, ‘She’s Miss Betsy’s sister, so she must be mean.’ ”
The Smiths’ close call highlights once again the terrible randomness of the Little Rascals prosecutors’ accusation process.
How challenging the prosecutors’ decision-making must have been: Which child-witness had been adequately manipulated, and which couldn’t be counted on to earnestly describe the sharks, the butcher knives and the dead babies? Which innocent adult was vulnerable, and which might strike jurors as just too unlikely a serial ritual-abuser?
Nancy Smith (Barrow) recalls today that “I had NO idea I had been accused until working with (defense attorneys) Mike Spivey and Jeff Miller for Bob’s trial. I happened to read some notes from police interviews and saw my name more than once….
“No member of my family – mother, father, Laura, Leslie, or Judson – was ever interviewed by police or prosecutors. Jimmy and I talked with Brenda Toppin one afternoon in her office. She only wanted to know about the state of Bob and Betsy’s marriage.”
Why we could see another Little Rascals case
Oct. 12, 2011
In the digital age more than ever before, no bad idea ever dies. Consider (neo)Nazism, creationism and vaccine-caused autism.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, ritual sex abuse is still being promoted as a significant national peril.
The possibility of another episode of day-care hysteria – e.g., Little Rascals, McMartin, Fells Acres, Wee Care – has lessened but certainly not vanished. A repeat of history requires only an angry parent or two, an agenda-guided therapist and a fervid prosecutor.